Populate a planet long enough, and something interesting is bound to happen. Here’s a sampling from May 17s past …
1536 — Henry VIII paid his executioner overtime to clear the way for marriage to Jane Seymour. Five alleged perps knelt before Hank’s axe after a show trial that didn’t require a lunch break. Most notable among those executed for charges including treason and incest was Henry’s out-of-favor and out-of-luck Queen, Anne Boleyn. Her brother-in-law, 2nd Viscount of Rochford George Boleyn, was also beheaded. Many historians believe the 32-year-old man was innocent of consorting with his Sister-Queen. Henry was so grief stricken that he waited three days to remarry.
1749 — A pox on your house if you don’t celebrate the birthday of Edward Jenner, the Father of Immunology. History and science tell us that Jenner developed the vaccine that would end the deadly scourge of small pox and pave the way for many effective vaccines. Daryl Hannah, who is not a doctor but hopes to play one on TV, is one of the well-intentioned cranks who insist Jenner actually aided development of autism. Thanks to Hannah and late-night radio conspiracy freaks, we are currently experiencing outbreaks of measles and whooping cough. Score one for the tinfoil hatters.
1829 — John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, died on this date at age 83. We wonder what he would make of the overtly political Washington Nine that rules on constitutional matters these days from behind the looking glass.
1903 — James “Cool Papa” Bell never played a game in the major leagues, yet
was welcomed into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974. Thought to be one of the very fastest stars in baseball history, Bell was sadly denied a shot in the “bigs” because he played center field while Black. He was a star on Negro and Mexican League championship teams and played professionally for nearly 30 years. How fast was he? Let’s ask legendary pitcher and one-time roommate Satchel Paige: “One Time he hit a line drive against me right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit him sliding into second.”
1961 — New Age songstress Enya, whose catalog is way better for insomnia than a bottle and-a-half of Sominex, was born this date in Ireland’s County Donegal. Among the high-powered titles of her hard-rocking lullabies are A Day Without Rain and The Memory of Trees. Seriously?
1975 — My but times do change in the lives of elderly rock and rollers. Forty-four years ago today, Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger needed 20 stitches to put his hand back together after he tested the tensile strength of a restaurant window and his knuckles won. These days, the 75-year-old sports chest scars following a doctor’s test of the tensile strength of Mick’s sternum: The scalpel and bone saw won, but so did Jagger. After insertion of a replacement aortic valve, he plans to tour again.
1984 — Cincinnati Reds pitching ace Mario Soto accomplished a rare feat back in 1975 when he struck out four batters in one inning. Pretty much any American knows that in baseball there are only three outs per inning. But pretty much any real baseball fan can explain the four-out scenario. On the other hand, folks with no interest in baseball are probably not even reading this sentence. So, look it up in your Funk and Wagnall.
1996 — Motorsports history is sadly littered with tragic results from pushing the envelope of speed a bit too hard. Nowhere is this more true than in the famed Indianapolis 500, set for its 103rd running on May 26. One of the most stunning fatalities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway came on this date 23 years ago. Always fast on the 2.5-mile Indy oval, veteran Scott Brayton clinched the coveted pole position and was the 1996 pre-race favorite. But he perished in a practice crash while putting a backup car through its paces. Brayton was 37.